‘Like opening a fan oven’: Australia’s rainforest threatened by bushfires

‘Like opening a fan oven’: Australia’s rainforest threatened by bushfires

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: December 9, 2018 SNIP: This year, early summer heat broke all-time records for Queensland. In Cairns, the tropical port city in the state’s far north, 1,600km (1,000 miles) north of Brisbane, the previous highest temperature in November was 37.2C, set in 1900. On Monday 26 November, the mercury hit 42.6C. Bushfires are common in Australia but they mostly flare in the south-eastern states of New South Wales and Victoria, where summers can be hot and dry. But Queensland, much of which is located in the tropics, joins other parts of the globe, such as California and Greece, where unusually hot and dry conditions have fuelled catastrophic fires which are forcing a rethink of what such regions can expect in the future. Typically, rainforest should be able to self-protect during fire, with closed canopies that allow little sunlight to the forest floor and that keep the vegetation moist. But the cyclones have shredded the canopies, leaving an excess of fuel from debris on the ground, and a lack of rain meant the forest was dry. Since 22 November, more than 1m hectares has been burnt across Queensland, much of which lies in the tropics. Since the beginning of its bushfire season in August, more than 3.6m hectares have been destroyed. Philip Stewart, a fire ecologist with Queensland University’s school of earth and environmental sciences said areas of rainforest impacted could take decades or even centuries to recover, adding that the next possible threat to those areas was mudslides as the wet season sets in. “High-intensity fire tends to create a layer within the soil that is...
From space, the ferocity of Queensland’s bushfires is revealed

From space, the ferocity of Queensland’s bushfires is revealed

SOURCE: ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) DATE: December 7, 2018 SNIP: In the face of an unimaginable bushfire threat, emergency agencies delivered a dire warning: evacuate now or burn to death. For many, it was a signal that last week’s unfolding emergency would be unlike any fire Queensland had faced in recent memory. In a perfect storm of extreme heat and fierce winds, fires erupted across a huge stretch of Queensland. Properties were razed and entire towns were almost wiped off the map. The fires were so intense they even penetrated rainforests — a phenomenal occurrence which has astounded and alarmed fire scientists. “Rainforests are non-burnable. That’s one of their distinguishing features. So if a rainforest is burning, that’s really significant,” said David Bowman, Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science at the University of Tasmania. But it’s hard to get a sense of just how massive the unfolding disaster was. That is, until you see it from the sky. Satellite imagery and data captured over Queensland in recent weeks gives us a different perspective of the bushfires. It highlights not only the unprecedented nature of this natural disaster, but also the incredible role firefighters played in protecting vast numbers of properties. To get a better sense of just how extraordinary the fire conditions were, David Bowman, Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science at the University of Tasmania, and his colleague Grant Williamson analysed the fire danger rating of the past two weeks and compared that to the same period over more than a century. The results were remarkable. In the three areas he examined — Mackay, Rockhampton and Gladstone —...
Breathing Seattle’s air right now is like smoking 7 cigarettes. Blame wildfires.

Breathing Seattle’s air right now is like smoking 7 cigarettes. Blame wildfires.

SOURCE: Vox DATE: August 22, 2018 SNIP: Ash and smoke are choking Seattle’s air for the second week in a row, as wildfires smolder in the Cascades and in British Columbia. The air quality in Seattle this week has been worse than in Beijing, one of the world’s most notoriously polluted cities. As of Wednesday morning, the Air Quality Index in Seattle was at 190, a rating classified as “unhealthy.” In parts of the city, the index rose as high as 220, which is “very unhealthy.” Other parts of Puget Sound, like Port Angeles, Washington — 80 miles from Seattle — saw the AQI rise to 205 this week. To put it in perspective, an AQI of 150 is roughly equal to smoking seven cigarettes in a day. People breathing air this unhealthy should avoid being outside and exerting themselves, particularly people with heart and lung problems, the elderly, and children. Fires are a major source of air pollution, in rural and urban areas. Fires from crop burning in India last year helped make Delhi the most polluted city on earth. Though wildfires throw off particles of all shapes and sizes, the biggest health dangers come from the smallest ones, 2.5 microns or less in diameter. Known as PM2.5, these particles penetrate deep into the airways, causing inflammation, asthma attacks, and cancer. In Seattle, the concentrations on PM2.5 reached 157 milligrams per cubic meter. “When pollution is very high, over 37 [micrograms per cubic meter], we start to see health consequences,” Jia Coco Liu, a postdoctoral researcher studying air quality at Johns Hopkins University...
Canada’s British Columbia wildfires prompt state of emergency

Canada’s British Columbia wildfires prompt state of emergency

SOURCE: BBC News DATE: August 15, 2018 SNIP: A state of emergency has been declared by the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) as it battles more than 560 wildfires. It will be in place across the entire western province for at least 14 days. Hot and dry conditions, with a risk of thunderstorms in some parts of BC, are expected to continue over the coming days. This is the second year in a row the province has battled significant wildfires on parts of its territory. Over 3,000 people are under evacuation orders and another 18,700 are under evacuation alerts. Fires are active throughout entire parts of the...
Glacier National Park is on fire — and yes, warming is making things worse

Glacier National Park is on fire — and yes, warming is making things worse

SOURCE: Grist DATE: August 13, 2018 SNIP: This summer has felt like a global warming turning point. Now, another milestone: Saturday was the hottest day in the history of Glacier National Park, and its first recorded time reaching 100 degrees F. On the same day, lightning started three fires in the Montana park, which has since been partly evacuated and closed. On Sunday, hot and dry winds helped the biggest fire expand rapidly. Authorities have taken extreme measures, including deploying smokejumpers and dispatching firefighters by foot to reach the parts of the fire in rough terrain. So far, according to the National Park Service, these efforts have not been effective to slow the fire’s spread. Right now, every state west of the Mississippi is at least partly in drought, including Montana. Missoula, the closest major city to Glacier National Park, hasn’t had any measurable rain for 40 days, and none is in the short-term forecast either — a streak that will likely wind up being the driest stretch in local recorded history, beating a mark set just last year. It’s clear that Montana is already becoming a vastly different place. In recent decades, warmer winters have helped mountain pine beetles thrive, turning mountains red with dead pines. In 1850, there were 150 glaciers in the area now known as Glacier National Park. Today there are 26. They’ve been there for 7,000 years — but in just a few decades, the glaciers of Glacier National Park will almost surely be gone. By then the park will need a new name. Glacier Memorial Park doesn’t have the same ring to it....